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It’s cookbook season: are you an Ottolenghi or a Nigella?

It’s Christmas time or, as I like to think of it, cookbook season.

At no other time of year do our cookbooks — be they a modest stack of freebies or an impressive hardback sprawl across multiple bookshelves — get quite such a workout.

And at no other time of year are we so likely to either buy a cookbook for someone else (“Aunty Mabel has eaten curry before, right?”) or receive one ourselves (“Slimmer’s Delight? You really shouldn’t have.”)

Those gorgeously weighty tomes, so easily ignored the rest of the year in favour of cheese on toast or a recipe hastily googled from the Coles chiller aisle, truly come into their own at Christmas.

Faced with the prospect of either cooking for a crowd or simply a “bring a plate” scenario, there is something comforting about cracking the spine on a book full of possibilities. Somewhere in there, we just know, is the perfect recipe to achieve our aims, whether that’s wowing the table with our ingenuity, delivering something the kids might deign to eat or simply cooking a dish that can be prepared ahead of time, without tasting like a thrice-boiled Dunlop Volley on the day.

Will it be Nigella’s Coca Cola ham, Poh’s spinach and ricotta rotolo or Ottolenghi’s quails with burnt miso butterscotch and pomegranate and walnut salsa? (Honestly, it’s probably not going to be the quails with burnt miso butterscotch and pomegranate and walnut salsa).

Christmas is the one time of year when it feels justifiable, even wise, to follow a recipe to the letter, rather than simply going with what’s in the pantry and making increasingly reckless substitutions to get there. Parsley’s basically basil! Milk is almost cream! A cup of Milo is definitely the same as grated 70 per cent cocoa chocolate! — until the final result bears as much in resemblance to the cookbook photo as a singleton and their Bumble profile.

Not everyone enjoys finding a cookbook with their name on it under the Christmas tree. I love it. Because, despite being a deeply boring cook, I adore a well-curated cookbook.

I love leafing through pristine pages, planning wholesome family dinners I’ll never cook, dinner parties I’ll never throw and transforming into a fantasy version of myself.

Fantasy me wears an adorable pinny that doesn’t make me feel like a bad feminist, cooks exclusively using Le Creuset’s limited edition Star Wars collection and kneads bread dough with my sleeves rolled up like I’m Rosie the freaking Riveter.

The choice of cookbook as a gift can also reveal so much about what someone thinks of you.

If it’s Adam Liaw they think I’m adventurous and probably more tolerant of heat than is the case.

If it’s Nigella they think I spend my evenings flitting about the kitchen in a silk dressing gown, spooning chocolate mousse from a chintzy teacup and flirting with the walls (all true, by the way).

If it’s Paula Deen I guess they think I’m . . . secretly a bit racist? That’s not great.

Good cookbooks offer an escape from reality to a fantasy world.

But great cookbooks are the ones that actually get used.

These cookbooks are the ones that, ironically, you barely need to consult anymore because the rough proportions of the recipes have carved themselves into the hungriest part of your brain.

These are the cookbooks with the dog-eared pages, the dried sauce stains and the annotations to remind you that while, yes, 40 cloves of garlic sounds like rather a lot, you need to keep the faith.

Their pages remind us of cookery triumphs and failures, the family we have cooked alongside and the meals cooked with love and delivered, tented with foil, to friends in need. They are simultaneously wormholes to the past and an escape tunnel to a future in which all our meals are picturesque and delicious, nobody ever burns their hands repeatedly on the oven tray and, when the meal is over and our stomachs pleasantly full, someone else will do the dishes.

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